Sitka to Wrangell, AK
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Heavy fog ’til mid am, partly cloudy, then clearing
This was a 230 mile overnight run with a stop in Petersburg. The fly in that ointment was heavy fog compounded by the Petersburg Narrows waterway that we had to traverse. We were to arrive in Petersburg at 2:30 am. The ship’s crew made an arrival announcement at 2:00 but then the ship simply stopped. The fog was so thick they couldn’t even see their own bow from the ship’s bridge. Normally they’d keep going in fog, relying on chart plotter and radar for navigation and collision avoidance. However, the channel is so narrow that they are required to be able to maneuver visually using the physical channel markers.
Sitting that long, we got cold on the ship. We moved to the cafeteria about 2:30 when we realized we’d remain stranded for a while. It was the warmest place on ferry. We sat in place for SEVEN hours until the fog finally burned off. When the fog finally cleared, we made our stop in Petersburg. It was a very picturesque place and we regretted that we weren’t able to schedule a stop for ourselves.
By the time we made our stop it was low tide and the ship had only a couple of feet under its keel. The shallow, narrow channel, (we called it the Wrangell Tangle), went for many more miles but the crew went through in spite of the shallow depths. To add insult to the situation, we were caught for nearly an hour behind a log raft being very slowly towed, (like 3 mph slow), by a tiny tug boat.
The fog also delayed two other ferries messing up schedules all over the Alaska Marine Highway System. Like a lower 48 east coast airline delay, the situation made Juneau’s morning headlines. The last few days had been heavily overcast but once the fog burned off the sky cleared almost completely. It was good to see sun! We had a nice breakfast in dining room. Then we read and dozed until we finally arrived in Wrangell about 4:00 pm.
There aren’t many camping options in and around Wrangell. We made the best of the situation and camped in town at the Alaska Waters Campground. It was a tiny place, owned by a local tour operator, with about a dozen sites with electricity, water and sewer. The WiFi was super speedy but, unfortunately, there were no bathrooms or showers! (Hey, everyone’s got their own priorities!) We headed for the local laundromat and purchased showers there.
Dinner consisted of salmon burgers, roasted Brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar and sweet potatoes. The evening was clear but chilly.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Mostly sunny, low 70s, beautiful day
We were up early to catch the Alaska Waters guided jet-boat cruise to the Anan Wildlife Observatory. The jet boat was a deluxe one, fully enclosed with a restroom! The water was like glass as we sped up the protected channel through the Tongass National Forest up the at 35 mph. We were dropped off at the trailhead leading to the observatory and met our second guide and a the ranger assigned to our group.
People go there to watch bears feed on spawning salmon. The Forest Service controls how many people visit the observatory during the spawning season with a system of permits. Alaska Waters takes care of obtaining permits for their guests. Their guides are specially qualified to lead people to the facility. We had a group of twelve visitors. Our two guides and the ranger all carried shotguns just in case.
Anan Creek climbs a couple of miles through the rain forest, that is Tongass National Forest, to a lake. There is a small set of waterfalls along the way where salmon bunch up as they work their way up the creek. It makes for easy picking for bears so that’s where the they come to feed. There’s an observation deck well above the falls and a camouflaged stairway that leads to an observation blind near the water’s edge. The trail that leads from to the observatory in only about ¾ of a mile long, mostly on boardwalk.
We’d been hoping to see bears feeding and, so far, have been disappointed. This time we paid out the big bucks for a primo tour and saw bears in spades! About 30 to 50 bears frequent the falls. We watched for about three hours as a dozen or so black bears dined. It was amazing! It was also fascinating to watch the bears behaviors as they interacted with each other. Favored fishing perches were defended. A cub followed its mother as she found cast-off fish for her youngster to eat. A three-year-old in its first year on its own was very shy about finding and eating fish. And the most successful bears were fussy about what part of the fish they ate, sometimes eating only the roe and brain which have highest nutritional value. We took lots of pictures but it is the videos that really tell the story.
We passed an anchored cruising sailboat as we approached Anan and we met the Swiss owners at the observatory. They started the season in New Zealand, visited Tahiti and Hawaii and sailed up the inside passage to visit some of Alaska. They planned to leave the boat in the area and return next year to spend the entire summer cruising Alaskan waters. Cool!
We decompressed from the Anan visit by touring the Tlingit Clan House on Shakes Island. The clan house is typical of the massively built clan houses and the small island also displays several totem poles.
We also visited the Wrangell Museum at the James and Elsie Nolan Visitor Center. Early gold prospectors passed through Wrangell enroute to the Klondike. The museum offers an historical interpretive walk through Wrangell’s colorful history. Exhibits feature everything from natural environment to Native Culture, fur trade, gold rush and military presence.
We had dinner at The Stik Lounge in Stikine Inn, the same building that houses the offices of Alaska Waters. It rained heavily overnight; this IS a rain forest, after all!